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Red Filter, Blue Filter

White Trees, Series 1, No. 7 (Keep the Watch)

White Trees, Series 1, No. 7 (Keep the Watch)
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, 2012

Here is an image that was being worked on in one state or another since shortly after it was captured in the summer of 2012.  This stands in contrast to many of my images, which I only begin working on after an extended period of time has passed, often several years.  Unlike those, however, I had a strong vision at the moment of capture for how I wanted this image to look, and got to work with unusual diligence to make it happen.

As with all of the White Trees series, my vision here was of a very white tree against a very dark background.  Key to that vision was a very dark sky, perhaps black or nearly black.  I tried on and off for nearly two years to achieve this, but never could quite pull it together.  No matter what I did, the end result just never looked right.

During that time period, of course, I was working on other things.  I continued to photograph, continued to edit, continued to post.  I learned new skills, and got new ideas from looking at the work of others. My artistic tastes evolved.

And then one day it hit me. I had been conceptualizing this image all wrong.  The white tree/dark background concept was solid, but it didn’t necessarily require a uniformly dark sky.  I had been using a red filter (in digital editing, not on the camera) to take the blue sky and make it dramatically darker, basically black.  This was pretty routine practice for me two years ago, when I would take all blue skies and make them black as a matter of course.

Since that time, though, I had also begun using blue filters (again, in digital editing, not on the camera) in some situations to dramatically lighten blue skies, introducing more light greys and white highlights into images.  I realized this image would be a perfect candidate for this. Following my realization, things fell into place pretty quickly, and I arrived at the image in this post in a matter of days.

It got me thinking a bit about the idea of previsualization.  This is the idea, as I understand it, that upon viewing the subject to be photographed, a photographer should have a definite and complete vision of what the final print will look like even before the shutter is pressed.  With this knowledge, the photographer can optimize each step of the photographic process along the way towards the goal of achieving the previsualized print.  Previsualization is largely attributed to the giant of American photography, Ansel Adams, and is championed by many as the gold standard of how a photographer should operate.

I used to think I was a firm believer in previsualization, but the more I photograph, the less certain I am about this.  I certainly don’t believe in randomly photographing things with the hope of “getting lucky” with one of the end results.  Some degree of forethought is absolutely necessary and desirable.  But neither does perfect preconception of the final print seem to be an absolute necessity to me either.  The process I described for the image in this post certainly doesn’t fit that mold.

For me, at least for now, my process seems to be paying attention to the things that catch my eye in the field, and doing the best I can to capture that initial impression with the camera.  The closer I understand what it is that caught my eye, the more definite idea I have for what I want the final image to be.  Often, though, the idea is not perfectly formed, and there is room for exploration, and excitement, with the captured image after the fact.

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